The Cuban artistic production has succeeded in attaining and conserving a respectable position within the contemporary art system. The Island’s artists, when creating, do not restrict themselves to being Cuban: they pretend to be and succeed in being universal. But, like the snake that bites its tail, in the search of the universal they reaffirm themselves over and over again as Cubans.
In recent times the world has turned its glance with greater intensity to the art coming from Cuba. Prestigious institutions and influential publications from America and beyond the Atlantic have widened their interest in it. Quite a few international gallery owners insist on enlarging their list of represented artists with one or several Cuban names. Great collectors travel to the Island to be informed on what is happening in it in the field of art. And if this were not enough, the artists who in other times left the country for various reasons, now – in a vital attempt of reconciliation much longed for and necessary for a nation – return anxious to show their work in the institutions they know well and to recover their visibility within the borders of their country of origin.
However, the term “border” today begins to lose meaning for Cuban art. The “Island-World” dream weakens, and the reality is accepted of being a mechanism in a larger system that exceeds us and at the same time needs us. Because the universe operates thanks to numberless systems consisting of simpler elements interrelated in a chain that, in search of its origin, leads us to basic particles such as an atom, which, despite being the most basic unit conserving its characteristics and stability without possibility of division, is integrated by other elements (protons, neutrons, electrons) that determine its operation. All the works in this exhibition, for which the artists have chosen a formal, basic element of the visual arts – the line – revolve precisely around the idea of the existence of a macro element structured by subsystems, lower but essential for its operation. Having existed since the very beginning of the history of art, the line plays the leading role in each one of the creations of this showcase, appearing in dissimilar materials, as part of the structure of a drawing, creating networks, granting corporeity to the words or simply existing as sole and determinant element within a composition.
Línea Insular (Island Line) is the title of this showcase that brings together part of the work of ten Cuban artists in the space of Galería La Cometa. They are creators from different generations; some no longer live in Cuba, others have remained in the Island, some come and go. All of them, with their own languages and discourses, grant plurality to the exhibition through the use of diverse techniques and mediums. This is a form of showing why the Cuban artistic production is worthy of so much attention, and at the same time, of consolidating bonds that for some time have been strengthening between two prestigious institutions such as Galería Habana (Havana) and Galería La Cometa (Bogotá).
Some of the exhibited works are a chant to poetry, the materialization of lyricism, and the reflection of the human need to believe in beauty. In this regard Glenda León knows well how to combine each element to transfer this sensibility to her entire artistic production. Appealing to her inherent capacity of synthesis, she grants form to sound or to its absence, sculpts music for the senses of sight and touch. Similar mysticism have the works by Gustavo Pérez Monzón, in which only a powerful energy can challenge gravity and make metals remain suspended in the air, as shown in his installation Coimbra, which takes the viewer to a different dimension and to states of introspection and self-reflection necessary to assume more relaxed postures in the face of life’s situations.
The theme of space and the place we hold in it is also recurrent in several works of this exhibition. The landscape is treated from several perspectives, and in all of them the role assumed by the human being in its conforming and modification is extremely important. In his series La realidad del caminante (The Walker’s Reality), Enrique Báster reflects the multiple human tours that – like traces – intertwine, superimpose, and mix on the urban network; on occasions they are taken by surprise and modified by unforeseen events – whether of social, economic or political nature.
In similar way, in his series Teoría y abstracción (Theory and Abstraction) he manipulates our ability and longing to find answers by creating – appealing to the most diverse materials he finds in his daily life – alleged cartographies on book covers that lose their functionality and capacity to instruct, indoctrinate or moralize. Telling us about the dispersion, about the loss of a logic path to follow, of doubt and discredit. René Francisco, in turn, offers a different social landscape. Both in the works Sin título (Untitled) and Hombre tumbado (Man Down) he alludes to the idea of society as homogeneous mass and proposes a reflection on the vulnerability of all human beings without exception in the face of inevitable events such as death as literal event or as metaphor of failure.
On the other hand, Ariamna Contino assumes the landscape as faithful recreation of an existing physical space. The series Camino al Edén (Road to Eden) goes beyond careful reproductions of beautiful paper fretwork. In this case, when recreating El desierto de Sonora (The Desert of Sonora) – as on other occasions El Mar Caribe or La frontera entre Guatemala y Honduras (The Caribbean Sea or The Border between Guatemala and Honduras), among others from the same series – she pretends to present the spectator with a normal corridor used by drug dealers to introduce drugs in North America, hence the title of the series. Behind the delicacy of its finishing, of the precise cuts and meticulous placing of one layer on top of the other, it hides a mournful theme that reveals the drama inherent to some realities.
Alex Hernández alludes to interior spaces and games of power, he transfers the Chinese practice of Feng Shui to the dynamics of the West and establishes links between the ancient Chinese Empire (in its origins, Feng Shui could only be applied to the emperors’ spaces) and the U.S. empire, synthesizing in geometrical compositions the different designs adopted by some presidents of the United States for the interior of the presidential office during their mandates.
In the work of Glexis Novoa power relations are broached after a careful selection both of the contents and mediums through which she expresses herself. The artist takes images that have become universal symbols of marked ideological events (La Esvástica, La Hoz y el Martillo (The Swastika, The Hammer and Sickle) and draws them virtuously on marble. The pieces enclose a contradictory duality between perpetual and perishable, based on the intrinsic perdurability of marble and the fragility of graphite. Duality and contradiction that extend, by association, to the alluded ideologies.
Other works search into matters inherent to human existence, facing sensible and complex questions. Racism, for example, is not a solved issue, neither in Cuba nor in Latin America or the world. While in our Island the racial issue has to do mostly with Blacks and Whites, in South America there is also discrimination toward the indigenous communities; and in Europe additional racial conflicts with the natives of the Middle East. Roberto Diago points to this unsolved problem and denounces it with the subtlety offered him by the torn canvas or the frayed patches, which act as parables of the most profound sequels and scars that can affect the human being.
While Diago focuses on the differences that many times distance people, in the other extreme we find the work of Alexandre Arrechea, cryptic and ambivalent, which marks the beginning of a race against the clock with equal possibilities: Jerarquías negadas (Denied Hierarchies) is a utopian reflect of balance. And in his series Diálogos (Dialogues), Arrechea reveals the human need of communication, employing the resources granted him by the languages of architecture and design, which appear repeatedly in his entire artistic production.
In his permanent game with the morphologies of the texts and their meanings, Iván Capote insinuates themes that have to be discovered beyond the words. His creations demand sagacity and intellectual sharpness to reach the most correct and complete possible decoding of his artistic production. His interest as an artist is to create a markedly minimalist work, but without leaving aside the search of the aesthetic appeal. For that reason, the careful process of selection of his materials also becomes a conceptual gesture.
The exhibited works make the invisible visible; reveal the structural lines of the unnoticeable; grant form to what has been intentionally hidden from us or simply for a conceptual reason; materialize the ethereal without omitting its poetry; even impregnate with lyricism what from origin lacks it completely. For that purpose they avail themselves of plural but not novel techniques; they do not seek to be avant garde by being innovative, they are innovating by using the tools furnished by tradition in an unprejudiced and personal way. Paper, canvas, oil, bronze, wood, marble, steel… One has to see how they have manipulated these materials and mediums! We are in the face of works that are contemporary because of the “how”, but also because of the broached themes; neuralgic themes between national and universal that are, above all, American, as both capitals.